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Nobel Prize Reflects IVF's Acceptance as Medical Procedure

American Medical News,  Oct 18, 2010
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Four decades ago, a majority of Americans told pollsters that the idea of creating a baby in a test tube went "against God's will." In early October, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to one of the men who helped make in vitro fertilization a reality.

Physicians specializing in fertility medicine said the prize — awarded to 85-year-old British biologist Robert G. Edwards — was long overdue and reflects how far the field has come. IVF initially sparked suspicion and condemnation from religious authorities, scientists, medical ethicists and the public.

In the 32 years since, more than 4 million children worldwide have been born with the help of IVF. Doctors have seen the attitudes shift in their patients, who in decades past felt stigmatized when seeking out IVF but today often regard the technique as a first option when natural methods fail.

While acceptance of IVF is widespread, what still sparks controversy is how the fertility practice can potentially be misused.

The Nobel award comes on the heels of contentious debate about IVF practices such as high-dollar payments to egg donors and the January 2009 "octomom" case in which octuplets were born to Nadya Suleman after six embryos were transferred, and two split.

Meanwhile, fertility specialists must contend with the dilemma of how to handle frozen embryos and fears about the potential use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to create "designer babies."

Public opinion toward IVF shifted quickly as the science proved successful. A month after the July 1978 birth of the first IVF-conceived baby, Louise Brown, a Gallup Poll found that a quarter of Americans opposed IVF as "not natural."

But 60% said they favored IVF because of the help it could provide to infertile couples.

More than half said they would consider using the method if they wanted to have a biological child but could not do so naturally.

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